Italian Gardens

The Italian Gardens is a 150-year-old ornamental water garden located on the north side of Kensington Gardens near Lancaster Gate. It is believed to have been created as a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria.

The Italian Gardens consist of four main basins with central rosettes, all elaborately carved in Carrara marble, and the famous Portland stone and white marble Tazza Fountain. These are surrounded by intricately carved stone statues and urns. The urns have five main designs - the Swan's breast, woman's head, ram's head, dolphin and oval.

It is situated at the head of The Long Water - the river which flows through Kensington Gardens into Hyde Park where it becomes The Serpentine. It is Grade II listed by English Heritage as a site of particular importance.

History of the Italian Gardens

The formal layout of the Italian Gardens can be traced to Osborne House on The Isle of Wight. Prince Albert was a keen gardener and took charge of the gardens at Osborne House, where the royal family spent its holidays. One of the big changes Albert made was the introduction of an Italian Garden with large raised terraces, fountains, urns and new geometric flower beds.

In 1860 another Italian Garden was built, this time in Kensington Gardens and with a design by James Pennethorne that included many of the features of the Osborne garden.

At the north of the gardens is the Pump House where you can see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's initials on one of the walls. The building once contained a steam engine that would operate the fountains and the pillar on the roof is a cleverly disguised chimney. A stoker would be employed all Saturday night to keep the engine running and pump water into the Round Pond, so on Sundays there was enough head of water to run the fountains without the engine working.

The Italian Gardens in Film

The Italian Gardens is also a star location in several films, including Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Wimbledon.

Find out more about the Italian Gardens, plus other Kensington Garden locations, in film.

Recent Renovations to the Italian Gardens

There have been a number of renovations during the years to ensure the Italian Gardens maintain their original splendour. The most recent renovations were in 1991 and 2011. In 1991 one of each of the vases was re-carved by a stone mason working for English Heritage.

In 2011 The Italian Gardens underwent more significant restoration work, which included the repair of severe frost damage, clearance of silt from fountain basins and ancient pipework, and removal of build-up of green algae from the Portland stone and marble. The works cost £486,000 ($778,970.99), and conserved these beautiful gardens for future generations of Londoners and visitors to enjoy.

The challenging restoration work also involved painstaking stone carving, cleaning and restoring the famous Tazza Fountain, which overlooks The Long Water, as well as renovating the benches, and installing a new, cleaner, water system that takes water from a borehole.

The intricate stonemasonry included carving eight life-sized swan heads and necks, as replacement handles on some of the urns. The Tazza Fountain had also suffered significant deterioration and required a great deal of fine carving on-site to conserve the acanthus band and mermen supporting the bowl. The central rosettes in the four main basins also needed careful cleaning and some elements had to be replaced with newly carved marble.

The Royal Parks' ecology and landscape architecture teams also designed a display of aquatic plants, anchored in the four perimeter basins, reflecting how the Gardens might originally have appeared.

Vintage postcards show how the basins were originally planted. The new planting scheme sets out to recapture the Victorian vision and help maintain water quality at the same time. Native water lilies, elegant spires of yellow flag iris, flowering rush and purple loosestrife are rooted in cages just below the water, while ducks have also been treated to new walkways to help them get in and out the water safely.

During the restoration, 13 tonnes of silt were removed from the fountain basins and the fountains are now fed with fresh water from a borehole. The cold water is aerated and its temperature raised as it leaps high in the air, before flowing out into The Long Water improving the ecology of the lake.

The restoration is the final element of a project called Tiffany - Across the Water which started following a grant (£784,000) from the Tiffany & Co. Foundation to the Royal Parks Foundation (USA), a charity established to enable Americans to support the natural history and heritage of London's Royal Parks.

Tiffany - Across the Water focuses on restoring ornamental and drinking fountains across the 5,000 acres of the eight Royal Parks.